Practically Perfection: MG’s N.C. 400K

MG has written up our North Carolina 400K this last weekend in her own sparkling style.

MG and Mike DaytonMG and Mike Dayton


May 17, 2008 – North Carolina 400K – Practically Perfection
By Mary Gersema

After completing the North Carolina 300K on April 26, tandem partner Ed and I looked forward to returning for more riding with the North Carolina Randonneurs on their 400K brevet.

Saturday morning, Ed and I arrive, fill up the Carradice with food and supplies, grab our cue sheets and brevet cards, and ready to ride. It’s a 6 a.m. start time, which I find quite civil, and my stomach feels happy.

Alan Johnson, the NC RBA, makes a few remarks and the brevet begins. The riders roll out into the morning and I hear people exchanging hellos and chatter about family, work, and lighting. (What conversation between randonneurs would be complete without some reference to lighting?) This feels cozy. Staying together as a group at the beginning of the brevets seems to be their tradition, and the NC Randonneur fellowship envelops me for the first 15 or so miles.

After the first big rise, Ed and I fall back. Ed remarks, “Our strategy is working!” I’m not sure what strategy that is. Then Ed decides he needs a 20-mile pit stop. Ed loves the 20-mile stop! We say goodbye to the group, and I ponder what additional strategy Ed may have up his sleeve.

We hop on the bike again, and make some forward progress. We catch a few riders, including Lynn Kristianson, who is styling with her dark blue Bike Friday, and front Gilles Berthoud panniers. While Lynn looks good, she does not feel good, and I can hear she is congested and has a deep chest cough. Nevertheless, we enjoy some miles of riding and talking together, and then Ed and I move on to the 63-mile control in Siler City.

There is a slight breeze in our faces as we ride, and the smell of honeysuckle permeates the route. The air is crystal clear and the sun is so bright my eyes sting. John on the Surly says it is a perfect day for riding and who can disagree… sunny, temps in the mid-60’s to the low-70’s, no humidity, and a tailwind on the second half of the ride.

Ed keeps mentioning how green everything is here. Trees are all around us, and we pass through lush meadows. Roads are quiet. We cross over a couple of rivers. As we roll along, I see lots of people mowing their lawns. I don’t recall seeing this as much on the DC brevets. Maybe North Carolina requires more mowing. Or maybe people love their lawnmowers more.

Dogs are also prevalent along our route. A few are chained up or restricted by an electric fence, but many run out to the road to say hello, run a few yards with us… or try to take our legs off. Sometimes it’s hard to tell. These dogs keep our reflexes as well as our vocal chords sharp. Some receive a “Hi there!” Others get a stern “Back! Go home!” Not always sure which approach to employ with these canines, I have to do my best in the moment. I notice one sweet looking guy crouching in the grass; s/he suddenly leaps out at us. Woof woof! Ahh! Not as sweet as I thought! Bad dog! “Back!” I have never seen so many unleashed dogs on a ride before. And since it’s an out and back course I get to see them twice! I hope we tire them out sufficiently on the way out so they will be too lazy to chase us on the return.

We make our way to the Uwharrie National Forest, the terrain undulates more steeply, and we are flanked by even more trees. The serene roads and allow me to sink into the ride. The rare passing car gives us tons of room as it goes by. Up and down we go, in and out of the shade of the trees. We reach the halfway point of the brevet, and see the bulk of the riders just leaving the control together. We meet volunteer Dan, who is helping sag if needed. (Even though Dan is working on his Ph D, he still found time to dedicate his Saturday to us.) Thanks, Dan!

We also talk some with John, an NC Randonneur who is riding a 1980 Schwinn Voyageur that he snagged for free off Craig’s List. We admire his homemade rear bag with homemade bag attachment and learn that he bought a sewing machine (also off Craig’s List), and taught himself to sew. As a former 4-H’er with little sewing talent, his resourcefulness and skill impresses me. I tell Ed how impressed I am for the next five miles.

On the way back through the forest we ride a bit with a recumbent rider from Georgia, and then catch Schwinn John. We chat about the smooth North Carolina roads and find out that John works for the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Then, for some reason, I go off about bike racks. We ride into the 155-mile control together, and see the main group has just rolled in as well.

I sit down to eat a sandwich, and chit chat with the riders. Ed keeps the camera clicking, and I notice that every time he takes a picture of me, I have food in my mouth. I’ll love seeing that on the slideshow, I think to myself. Mary with mouthful of power bar, Mary chewing on a sandwich, Mary with another sandwich, you get the idea.

I look over at NC Randonneur Byron, and he is not looking so hot. “Green like the kudzu,” is how Chuck Lathe described him later. I almost feel bad eating my chicken sandwich in front of him. Almost. I offer him a Pepcid and he declines. Ed comes over, sits down, assesses Byron’s condition, and offers him a Pepcid, too. He declines again, and says he may grab some Tums. Ed and I look skeptically at each other. We believe in the power of Pepcid. Byron then digs deep into his satchel of courage to ride out with the main group while Ed and I eat our meal.

A few minutes later we take off, with visions of catching the main group and making it to the next control before sundown. This is a perfect recipe for riding off course, which we make sure to do six miles later. As visions of the next control dance in our head, our feet pedal us into seven bonus miles. Great! We realize our mistake and reverse course.

Grrr… it takes a while to shake this off. I cannot stand how my cyclocomputer mocks me with these extra miles and I disconnect it until I am back on cue. The miles pass slowly and Ed and I are sullen. At least they happened in daylight, we agree. We then try to convince each other that there was some divine reason for these seven extra miles. Perhaps something bad would have happened to us if we hadn’t gone off cue. Maybe the sunset would not have looked so spectacular if we had seen it seven miles further up the road. The bonus miles were actually a blessing in disguise. Another part of Ed’s secret brevet strategy. Ha! Bonus miles suck!

Eventually we shake off our miscue funk and ride into the penultimate control at mile 186. We talk briefly with Chuck and Byron (who is still looking a little green) and they leave together. I engage in some toxic waste fueling, which includes an oatmeal cream pie and potato chips. Ed takes a picture of me. Thanks, Ed. Surly John arrives and we ride out together for the 60-mile night ride to the finish.

Fifteen miles up the road we catch Schwinn John and enjoy a group ride of four people, three bikes, over the next several miles. Except for one stretch on Siler City-Snow Camp Road, there is no traffic. The sky is clear and the moon near full. I can almost read the cue sheet without a light… almost. It’s a great night to be a stoker and a randonneur. Temps must be in the low-sixties. The captain absorbs any chill in the air. A perfect day has transitioned into a perfect night.

Thirty miles from the finish, we stop at a closed store to grab a sandwich out of the Carradice and stretch our legs. A group of riders is just rolling out as we roll in. Schwinn John leaves with the other group so we say goodbye to him. After our break, Surly John decides he needs a couple extra minutes to ready for the final miles so Ed and I take off into the evening alone.

Fifteen miles from the finish we see a group of riders and an NC volunteer outside a gas station. We do not need anything and roll past without stopping.

The finishing miles are capped off with a ride over Lake Jordan. The moonlight shines brightly off the broad expanse of water, and trees are outlined in black along the horizon. Ed and I are quiet, enjoying each other’s company and absorbing the beauty of the evening.

We ride the back roads into Morrisville. Two and a half miles from the finish, Lin Osborne catches us and we ride in together. I am so looking forward to completing the ride that I keep errantly throwing out my arm in a hopeful left-turn signal for the next two miles. Lin must think I have some strange body tick. Branson Kimball drives by with his Serotta on the car roof; he gives a friendly horn toot.

Finally, we roll up to Alan’s house, where he has routed the finish. Very convenient for him, if you ask me. We scrawl down our final time, 1:37 a.m., sign our cards, and put them in the plastic bag hanging from Alan’s door. Ed asks Lin to cover up his reflective sash (in what Ed calls the “randonneur salute) so he can take a finishing photo. I suspect Lin thinks we’re weird, but he plays along. We make the same randonneur salute, and Lin kindly takes our picture. For once, I have no food in my mouth.

Just as we hop on our bikes to backtrack to our car, another group of riders arrives. Byron is among them, and it looks like his satchel of courage held some serious finishing determination. Congratulations, all, and it’s off to the parking lot to load up and head back to our hotel for some post-400K sleep.

Back in the parking lot, I begin to feel like Byron looked earlier. My stomach gets queasy, and I think lying down in the bushes to rest my cheek against the cool ground sounds really great. Instead I sit in the car for a minute and collect myself. Ed packs up the bike and gives me a little space. A few minutes later, I realize that I’m going to make it; there will be no occasional vomiting on this brevet.

As we drive out, we see Surly John on the home stretch. We wave and yell, “Good job!” and are off to the hotel for showers and shut-eye.

The forgiving terrain, quiet roads, clear skies, lovely temperatures, and excellent company have made for a perfect brevet outing. Thanks, North Carolina, for serving up a great route and welcoming Ed and me on your brevets in 2008.


Sun and Fun at the N.C. 400K

Is there such a thing as the perfect brevet? Saturday seemed to hold, tantalizingly close, the chance to achieve the mythic, unattainable ride. For MG and I, the perfect brevet means a steady pace. No missed turns. Efficient use of controls, with just the right amount of food and drink and no wasted time. A lot of camraderie with our fellow riders on and off the bike. And tailwinds on the homeward leg.

MG and I enjoyed all those good things except one (can you guess?) at the North Carolina Randonneurs 400K. Mike Dayton, Alan Johnson, Branson Kimball, Jerry Phelps and co. hosted us for our second brevet with them this year and it was a classic.

John Bovine (l) and John Morris leading the start

See my full Flickr set or see the Slideshow.

The start took place under cool, perfectly clear skies at Morrisville and we rode out N.C.-style, with everyone sticking together for the flat miles down to Jordan Lake. I didn’t get an exact total but the group numbered around 20. North Carolina RBA Alan Johnson uses the same out-and-back course, each time longer, for his 200K, 300K and 400K, and it’s well known that the first hills come after the lake. So, everybody takes it easy and chats before the group splits up.

We stopped early at mile 20 to take off layers and the group went on. We rode mostly solo from there to the first control at Siler City and chatted with fellow D.C. Randonneur Lynn Kristianson. She was riding solo this day on her stylish Bike Friday with Gilles Berthoud front panniers.

Lynn K. on her Bike FridayLynn K. on her Bike Friday

The day by then was warm, with temperatures in the 60s with bright sun. We avoided the many friendly dogs who scampered out to bark at our wheels and caught up with John M. at the Siler City control. The last of the layers came off and from there it was off over shallow rollers to the 100K control in Seagrove, at the Citgo/Hardees. MG and I wolfed down hot ham and cheese sandwiches and contemplated the next segment, a 60-mile round trip to Ophir, which we were told held the real hills. Chuck, John and Byron were there in high spirits.

John M. rehydrates two-fistedJohn M. rehydrates two-fisted

We put the tandem into high gear and rode quickly to the turnaround, attacking the downhills. This part of the ride resembled the terrain on DCR brevets and we quickly found our rhythm, while marveling at the lush green North Carolina woods all around us. The main group was just leaving the turnaround near Ophir as we approached. At the control we visited with volunteer Dan Gatti, Jim on his recumbent Bachetta, and John B. on his early 80s Schwinn bike that he found very inexpensively on Craigslist and has put back into service. He told us how he had sewn his own saddlebag and crafted his own bag mount, and we were very impressed.

Dan and MG at the TurnaroundDan and MG at the Turnaround

We began feeling our legs on the return. Odd how that happens after 125 miles! After riding bits with John B. and Jim, we arrived in Seagrove to find Branson, Byron, and the rest of the first two groups having dinner. This time we ordered chicken club sandwiches. I had not been in a Hardees for 30 years, and now I’ve eaten in one three times in the last three weeks. They’ve improved a lot!

Chris Clunn and Branson recover at HardeesChris Clunn and Branson recover at Hardees

We dawdled and let the fast guys go ahead of us by 10 minutes. They planned to stop in Siler City for dinner and we planned to catch them there for the nighttime 100K. Then the captain of the tandem succumbed to “get-there-itis” and took a wrong turn. I had not properly loaded the maps onto my GPS and it would not show the roads we were using, but it still showed our location and the route I plotted.
Curiously, it showed our little location triangle moving away from the purple route line. We talked about how the road felt wrong but didn’t stop until the next intersection, some 3.6 miles off course. Fuming, we made our way back to the route. It takes time to get over 7.2 bonus miles, we discovered –about another 7.2 miles. I kept my computer in place but MG unclicked hers for the same distance we added in an attempt to wipe away the mistake.

Supposed to Read 177 milesSupposed to Read 177 miles

At Seagrove we arrived at last light and again found our buddy John M. and Chuck at the control. The Branson and Jerry group, fueled with Mexican dinner, tooled past as we prepared to launch into the night.

MG and Ed at SeagroveMG and Ed at Seagrove

A nearly full moon emerged and we enjoyed a tailwind all the way in. We shared the segment with the two Johns, Schwinn and Surly, and made good time. One last brief stop at mile 30 to refuel and put on a jacket and that was it — we mostly solo’d into the finish at 1:36 a.m. for a 19:36 finish and 255 miles completed. RBA Alan, who wisely chose sleep, had us sign and time our cards at his house and leave them in an envelope on his front door. We saw Branson headed home as we arrived and finished with Lin Osborne, who nicely took our photo.

Lin gives the Randonneur SaluteLin gives the Randonneur Salute

We’ll keep seeking the perfect brevet, but we felt good about our finishing time. It was about right for us compared to our past 400Ks. We were a little extra happy with the result since we did not ride a 400K together last year and wondered how we would fare after a year off.

No doubt our success was aided by Alan and everyone in the NCR bunch, who extended their friendly hospitality on our two brevets with the NCR group this year. We had a lot of fun and hope to get back there soon.